Thursday, January 9, 2014

Why a Kashmir Referendum is Not Possible

AAP leader Prashant Bhushan set off a firestorm this week by calling for a referendum on the presence of the Army in Kashmir. The very word 'referendum' created such a stir that he has not been silenced. As a disclaimer, Opinions 24x7 has been calling for the abrogation of AFSPA, particularly in Manipur but also in Kashmir, because it is a law that goes against the Constitution when applied for an extended period and leads to counterproductive results.

However, this is not about AFSPA but about a referendum on Independence for Jammu and Kashmir altogether. As a fact of history, such a referendum is impossible today. For one, the Indian Constitution does not have any provision for a referendum. Before the merger of Sikkim, a referendum was held there, but then Sikkim was outside the Indian Constitution (a protectorate) and the merger was in any case based on an Act of Parliament, not a referendum. Furthermore, it is true that there is a UNSC resolution calling for a plebiscite in the state. This is no longer possible for two reasons:

  1. Pakistan has not ended its occupation of the Northern areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, which are a part of Kashmir, and China continues to occupy Aksai Chin. As per the UNSC resolution, all sides leaving these areas is a precondition to a plebiscite;
  2. With the Pakistan-sponsored genocide of Kashmiri Pandits, the demographics of the state have changed substantially. This is not the same state as it was when the UNSC resolution was passed and the change is more than what would have been in the ordinary passage of time. 
Even more importantly, the state of Jammu & Kashmir has mixed greatly with India. Although Indians themselves cannot settle in the state, those from the state can and have settled across India, mixing with the local population. It is no longer unusual to have a friend from the state. Therefore, for all practical matters, the state has become an integral part of India, the future of its people has merged with that of the greater Indian nation. Therefore, the question of even considering a granting of Independence does not even arise: the Indian nation is one, divided as it may be after 1947, but whatever is left, it cannot be divided further.  

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